The Indian geospatial story: what?s next?

The Indian geospatial story: what?s next?


India fits its 1.2 billion population in an area of 3.3 million sq km. Agriculture occupies half of this area while, forests, deserts, grassland, wastelands, cities, towns and infrastructure occupies the rest. A simple calculation shows that there are 412 persons per sq km and each of those persons depend on 0.11 hectares for their food. These numbing numbers illustrate the developmental dilemma of India. The burgeoning, aspiring  population places conflicting demands on scarce natural resources, the scarcest of which is land. Many years ago, our founding fathers therefore placed their confidence in the use of science and technology to fast track the development process. One of the S&T elements is geospatial systems. 

The Indian geospatial story began with the Survey of India and rapidly grew to encompass the latest in technology, including digital and space technologies. The current stress on Digital India, Make in India and the push towards better utilization of our space assets is a significant part of this S&T push. While these are government efforts, the private industry has picked up the reins and has moved up the value chain from data conversion for offshore entities to decision support systems for users in India and abroad. There is a buzz in the air and expectancy that the combined efforts by government and industry will result in better use of our scarce resources and a higher quality of life for the people.

The only hitches perceivable are certain policies which may act as a hindrance. Here too there is a positive attitude to revise old laws and work around old obstacles. Unfortunately, the sub-continental situation and global threats make it necessary to exercise caution while doing so. It needs to be recognized that making things hard for the genuine user does not automatically translate into things being equally hard for the not-so-genuine. The strategy is to be one step ahead by being prepared. 

While we do need to import some hardware and software, the Make in India campaign could lead to these being developed in India or at least manufactured here. The IRNSS is one such opportunity. Another opportunity exists in terms of capacity building. The expected explosion in the use of geospatial technologies will require more hands, but the curious situation is that geospatial education centers report very low offtake of new graduates and post graduates. This anomaly needs to be corrected.

The next few years should be busy ones for all — the government, industry and academia. The Indian public looks forward to a greater Gross Domestic Happiness. Can geospatial systems, amongst others, live up to these expectations?